Director : Tom Vaughan
Screenplay : Robert Nelson Jacobs (based on the book The Cure by Geeta Anand)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Brendan Fraser (John Crowley), Harrison Ford (Dr. Robert Stonehill), Keri Russell (Aileen Crowley), Meredith Droeger (Megan Crowley), Diego Velazquez (Patrick Crowley), Sam Hall (John Crowley, Jr.), Jared Harris (Dr. Kent Webber), Patrick Bauchau (CEO Erich Loring), Alan Ruck (Pete Sutphen), David Clennon (Dr. Renzler), Dee Wallace (Sal), Courtney B. Vance (Marcus Temple), Ayanna Berkshire (Wendy Temple), P.J. Byrne (Dr. Preston), Andrea White (Dr. Allegria)
Most people have never heard of Glycogen storage disease type II, also known as Pompe disease, because it is an extremely rare genetic disorder (less than 10,000 people in the world suffer from it). However, most people have heard of Harrison Ford, who plays a fictional researcher who, against all odds, discovers a treatment for the disease in Extraordinary Measures, which takes rather extraordinary license with an already unlikely story. In reality, the various treatments for the disease that now exist were the product of work by dozens of researchers all over the world, but if there is one thing that Hollywood knows, it is that audiences love a lone hero, particularly one who succeeds by bucking the system, which is where Ford’s cantankerous Dr. Robert Stonehill comes in.
Dr. Stonehill is contacted by John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a desperate father with two young children who have been diagnosed with Pompe. The disorder involves a missing enzyme that makes it impossible for the body to break down glycogen, which builds up and causes progressive muscle deterioration, essentially limiting the child’s life to less than five years. Crowley, a young, but already successful businessman working for Bristol-Myers Squibb, has heard of Dr. Stonehill’s pioneering research and sees him as the only chance his children have to survive. Unfortunately, not only is Dr. Stonehill short on research funds and support, but he is also something of a rogue, a brilliant but interpersonally challenged researcher-scoundrel who prefers classic rock music and bass fishing to any kind of real human companionship. Nevertheless, when John and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) manage to raise money for his research, he decides to go into business with them, founding a biomedical start-up whose sole purpose is to find a cure for Pompe.
It is during the film’s middle stretches that it is the most compelling, as it delves into the complex and often contradictory nuts-and-bolts realities of multi-billion-dollar biomedical research, whose end result of saving and improving human lives is always in competition with the almighty dollar. John and Dr. Stonehill’s start-up is successful enough that it catches the eye of major research company, which buys it up and has to take them as part of the deal, which means the corporate researchers have to put up with Stonehill’s eccentricities and the executives, especially the hard-nosed Dr. Kent Webber (Jared Harris), have to deal with John’s race-against-time mission to save his own children, which frequently puts him at odds with the bottom line.
Minus its above-the-name stars and theatrical distribution, Extraordinary Measures is largely indistinguishable from any number of made-for-TV melodramas that have been ripped straight for the headlines. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie, and it has moments that work quite beautifully, especially the scenes that pit John’s personal desperation against both the biomedical industry’s cold pursuit of objectivity and Stonehill’s my-way-or-the-highway isolationism. Harrison Ford certainly got the juicy role, and he plays the character’s rough-hewn narcissism for all it’s worth without making him completely unsympathetic; however, it is really Fraser who holds the film together, as it is ultimately the story of a father who was willing to put virtually everything on the line to give his kids a fighting chance at survival. Director Tom Vaughan, who has worked primarily in television, keeps the film’s approach neat and tidy, never veering too far into anything that might detract from the story’s inherent appeal to our primary emotions, and on that level it works quite well. It does make you wonder, however, how it might have worked with a slightly edgier approach that focused more on the emotional turmoil of the family’s plight and less on the easier appeals of a cowboy researcher fighting the system.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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